Syrian presidential election a ‘fraud on democracy,’ Kerry says

LONDON — The U.S. and other nations supporting the Syrian opposition agree that President Bashar Assad’s planned presidential election is a “farce” and are prepared to redouble efforts to support the Syrian opposition, Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday.

While stopping short of promising U.S. military aid the opposition is seeking, Kerry said he and his counterparts from 10 other nations unanimously remain committed to “changing the dynamics on the ground in Syria.” Neither Kerry nor British Foreign Secretary William Hague offered many specifics.

“Our teams are going to come together in very short order now to lay out a specific set of steps that we can and will take together in order to have a greater impact,” Kerry said after meeting with other foreign ministers at a “Friends of Syria” meeting of 11 Western and Arab countries.

Hague said that despite military gains for regime forces, the group believes “there will not be a military victory for either side.” He said the goal is “to step up our efforts to ensure a moderate opposition stays in being.”

The meeting comes amid grim conditions in Syria and the resignation of Lakhdar Brahimi as the joint United Nations-Arab League envoy for Syria. Brahimi, an 80-year-old Algerian diplomat, tried unsuccessfully for nearly two years to mediate an end to Syria’s 3-year-old civil war.

Syria’s conflict began with largely peaceful protests calling for reforms but transformed into an armed uprising and eventually a civil war following a ferocious military crackdown on protesters. More than 150,000 people have died since March 2011, and hundreds of thousands of people have been wounded.

On Wednesday, rebels bombed a large Syrian military base at the al-Sawadi checkpoint in the Idlib province, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. No report of casualties was readily available. An activist involved with the operation told the Associated Press that explosives were placed under the base via a tunnel that was dug over a seven-month period.

Last week, Syrian rebels bombed the Carlton Citadel Hotel in Aleppo by tunneling underneath the building and setting up explosives. The blast killed an unknown number of soldiers.

Brahimi criticized Assad’s intention to hold presidential elections amid the war, saying it would hamper prospects for a political solution that the country so urgently needs. His comments angered the Syrian government, which intends to hold a vote on June 3.

Kerry denounced the elections, saying they were a “farce” and a “fraud on democracy, on the Syrian people and on the world.”

Kerry also said he’s seen raw data suggesting that Assad’s forces have launched chlorine attacks, but that has not yet been confirmed.

Moreover, he said the U.S. was frustrated that humanitarian aid was not getting to the Syrian people and would work through the United Nations to fix the problem.

PBS NewsHour reporter-producer Joshua Barajas contributed to this report.